Character Analysis Algernon (Algy) Moncrieff


Algernon Moncrieff is a member of the wealthy class, living a life of total bachelorhood in a fashionable part of London. He is younger than Jack, takes less responsibility, and is always frivolous and irreverent. As a symbol, he is wittiness and aestheticism personified. He — like Jack — functions as a Victorian male with a life of deception. Unlike Jack, he is much more self-absorbed, allowing Wilde to discuss Victorian repression and guilt, which often result in narcissism.

Along with Lady Bracknell, Algy is given witty lines and epigrams showing his humor and disrespect for the society he will inherit. In discussing the music for Lady Bracknell's reception, Algernon says, "Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad music, people don't talk." This is Algernon's wit and wisdom contained in a single line. Occasionally, he even congratulates himself on his humor: "It's perfectly phrased!" He poses and moves luxuriously about the stage with the studied languor of the aesthete who has nothing to do but admire his own wittiness. One might certainly see him as a representation of Wilde's cleverness and position in the aesthetic cult of the 1890s.

Parallel to Wilde in deception, Algernon is leading a double life. He uses an imaginary invalid friend, Bunbury, to get out of boring engagements and to provide excitement in the otherwise dull life of Victorian England. As he says, "A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it." This secrecy, of course, was also a facet of Wilde's life, which was unraveling before his Victorian audiences all too quickly by the time the play opened in London. With his irreverent attitudes about marrying and his propensity for a secret life, Algernon represents the rule-breaker side of Oscar Wilde — the side that eventually would meet its downfall in a notorious trial.

Finally, Algernon functions as an expression of the lengths to which Victorians had to go to escape the stifling moral repression and guilt brought about by a society that values appearance over reality. Algernon's constant references to eating and his repeated actions of gorging himself on cucumber sandwiches, muffins, and whatever food might be handy are symbols of total self-absorption, lust, and the physical pleasures denied by polite society. Just as institutions such as the church (Chasuble) and the education system (Prism) function to keep people on the straight and narrow, human nature denies these restrictions and seems to have a will of its own. Algernon symbolizes the wild, unrestricted, curly-headed youngster who is happiest breaking the rules.